Tokyo police arrested photographer Leslie Kee earlier this month, charging that photos in his art gallery show and in books sold at the gallery were obscene. The gallery owner and a gallery employee were also arrested.
The photography books seized by police include many images showing uncensored male genitals, occasionally erect. In that sense, Leslie Kee and the gallery personnel are clearly “guilty” of the charges. But many in Japan are outraged that archaic obscenity laws are being used to persecute an artist, ban books and shut down an art gallery.
Blouin Artinfo has an interview with Leslie Kee about the arrest and “the boundaries of art and pornography”. Regarding the gallery show which sparked the arrests:
“Forever Young – uncensored edition” featured all-male nudes. I classify it as art, but more than art to me, it is a self-expression, a truth of me. I appreciate the beauty and strength of a natural man. I love the body structure, the boyish mind and the power and limitations he has. I photograph every single change of his body and expressions very honestly. It’s just like a raw meat. How does one accept it and appreciate it?
I think art definitely has the power to make new path for the next generations.
Most of my commercial and fashion works are beautifully retouched, obviously, there is no lie. I have never seen an unretouched photo in a beauty campaign. However for my male nudes collection, I try to keep them unretouched and obviously uncensored, so as to express the beauty of truth, rawness and purity of a man. At the same time, by doing this, it also creates a balance in my lifework.
Some hope this incident will lead to a long-overdue revision of Japanese obscenity laws dating to the post-WW2 U.S. occupation. The Japanese Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that a book of Robert Mapplethorpe photos was not obscene and could be sold openly. But the laws are still on the books and, obviously, still being enforced.
Lots and lots more Leslie Kee photos at this fan Tumblr page.